History in the Hills: Union Cemetery notables
One of my pastimes, if you could call it that, is visiting old cemeteries. I think it stems from the fact that these places are untouched by time.
Stones that are placed there to honor the dead are in most cases unchanged, depending on the materials they are made from. For me, this a very real and direct link to the past in a way that is different from visiting a museum or historic site.
In addition to the practical use of a cemetery, they serve as outdoor art galleries and spaces for walks with family. Large cemeteries created in the mid-19th century were designed with the living public in mind in addition to the dead. The rural cemetery movement was popular in more populated areas, and the idea was to create a space with gardens, ornamental trees and manicured landscapes for public recreation. This was a time before public parks dotted our landscape.
Our beautiful Union Cemetery, built very much in the style of the rural cemetery movement, was established in 1853 and dedicated on July 4, 1854. It’s hard to imagine a family taking a picnic lunch or going to the cemetery for recreation, but the tradition continues today with walkers, nature lovers and antiquarians like my wife and I visiting and reflecting on life, nature and our past. I would encourage you to visit and see for yourself.
It was on a walk just recently in Union Cemetery when my son, Paulie, a constant inspiration for these articles, asked me about who is buried here amid the park like setting. Since we don’t have any family interred there, it is hard to make it relevant to a youngster. With that in mind, there are more than a few prominent figures that have impacted all of us here in the Ohio Valley who are interred at Union Cemetery.
In 1929, David Weir died at the age of 48 of pneumonia at his home in Steubenville. Weir, brother of Weirton Steel founder E.T. Weir, was instrumental in the founding of the Weirton Steel Corp., and at the time of his death, was vice president. David passed away just as the merger of Great Lakes Steel, M.A. Hanna Corp. and Weirton Steel was being realized to form National Steel. In David’s will, it directed that funds from his estate were to be used for the building of the beautiful Margaret Manson Weir Memorial Pool, dedicated in 1934 to the memory of his mother in Weirton. Without David and his brother’s interest in locating their steel mill here, life would be look very different in this area.
Another important gentleman who was dedicated to the prosperity of our area was Dohrman Sinclair. Sinclair was tragically killed in 1915 when he was trapped by a train in the yard of the LaBelle Iron Works. Responsible for the construction of the city waterworks and numerous other business enterprises, Sinclair was a tireless promoter of our region. It is because of his efforts that the Follansbee Brothers were enticed to build their mill, and the Weir brothers centered their efforts on a sleepy West Virginia farm.
Concerned about how workers would get to work in the mills of West Virginia, Sinclair formed two organizations — the Steubenville Bridge Co. and the Tristate Traction Co. Through these efforts, the Market Street Bridge was built in 1905, and trolley lines from Steubenville were connected to Follansbee and Wellsburg to the south, and Holliday’s Cove to the north. Without the efforts of Sinclair in helping to provide a workforce to the mills, industry would not have easily flourished here. Not to mention that without the bridge, my morning commute to Historic Fort Steuben would be a little longer.
Also connected to the steel industry and buried in Union Cemetery is J.C. Williams. Williams, a native of Wales, came to this country in 1897 and became connected with the Weir brothers before coming to our area. Williams became president of Weirton Steel in 1929 after E.T. Weir became the chairman of the board of National Steel. Williams led the company through the Great Depression and eventually died in 1936 at the age of 60.
Williams left a substantial trust of $800,000 to the community of Weirton and Steubenville after the lifetime of his wife, through which countless organization have benefited across many years. Williams Country Club, aptly named for J.C. Williams, since he was a founder, is still a fixture in the community today.
More than a few articles could be written on the importance of Union Cemetery and its notable burials. For those of us who don’t have a family member interred among its noble trees and stones, we can visit and pay our respects to those titans of our community who continue to live through their impact on our lives today.
(Zuros is director of operations at Historic Fort Steuben and the Steubenville Visitors Center.)